Volunteer Africa


Eyes on Tanzania

Habari Gani.  Jana Langu Phil.

I have just watched the latest episode of BBC Click – actually a ‘best bits’ review of 2017.  It featured a report on using tablets in northern Tanzania, written in Swahili – see a short clip here.  The Global Learning XPrize is a challenge to teams around the world to develop software and apps for tablets that could help youngsters learn basic skills. The use of tech in a remote part of a poor country like this connects what I do now as part of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group and where I started out as a teacher using very limited resources.  I also have a new student who speaks Swahili.

Tanzania Fundraising Montage HDR

Fundraising for Tanzania

It is 11 years since I started off my teaching career in Tanzania.  I didn’t really acknowledge the 10 year anniversary with a blog post, so this is a year late.  The background to 3 months spent in a mud hut village called Buswelu, near Mwanza, was a couple of fundraising activities in my hometown of Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.  The first was sitting up the Albatros mast for seven hours, dressed as a pirate. The second was an all-you-can-eat-buffet prepared by my brother, Peter, with live music from The Rainmen, who used to frequent the Corner House, where I worked as a front-of-house barman for 18 months.  I eventually flew out to the country in October 2006, along with Jacky (a Canadian, aged 18), Michelle (UK, 21), Tom (UK, 21), Adrienne (Aus, 25), Jenny (US, 26).  The company I went with was called Volunteer Africa, run by a woman based in New Zealand.  It was the classic ‘gap year’ experience, even though I had long graduated from university, and the original blog posts from that time reflect that kind of narrative.


Swahili lessons

My arrival in Dar Es Salaam is documented here. Here’s an extract below:

“We found our accommodation at Kilwa Road, Salvation Army Hostel, to be very basic.  Now, i’ve done Glastonbury, but i found this even more basic.  A bed with mosquito net, a wobbly fan, a very basic toilet and a shower which didn’t really work.  Not being able to drink or get the general water into our bodies, i was very cautious.  We were given given bottled water at dinner, but then we a had a power cut and had to go back into town for a pizza, by teksi (taxi).  The general tiredness showed on everyone’s faces, which had taken over from the excitement, anticipation and general concentration needed to arrive in one piece.”

We spend a week in the coastal city, where we had daily Swahili classes using the book shown above.  My whole Tanzanian adventure is archived on this site, which used to belong to STA travel and is now called OffExploring.   Some of my photos are stored on this old flickr site. Footage of me teaching at Hisani can be seen in this montage of clips, while footage of the kids dancing and goofing around to a popular Bongo Flava soundtrack can be seen in this edited clip from my DVD film of the trip.

Highlights of my whole trip, set to a live version of Toto’s Africa can be found here.  It includes footage of me on Safari, in hospital in Mwanza, flying from Mwanza to Arusha and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I spent ages lying awake at night, thinking about this track and the various shots I would need to complete it!  It was a relief to finally put it together, but I only uploaded it to YouTube in August 2015.  It forms the final chapter of my DVD, which is why there are credits at the end.


Teaching Standard 3

Looking back, teaching at Hisani Orphanage wasn’t exactly the best preparation for teaching English as a Foreign Language.  For starters, it wasn’t explicitly English that I taught, but there were daily classes under mango trees. Often it was a bit of geography.  There were so many external factors to contend with, not least how the kids were treated by the owners.  It was, however,  invaluable experience in terms of ‘classroom’ management and teaching with limited resources – there were basically none.  One of us had to be the coordinator, deciding who would teach which class or ‘standard’ – which ranged from standard ‘zero’ – ages 4 or 5 – up to standard ‘seven’ – the high school kids – around 15 or 16.  I used to visit the local Gedelli school and see what it was like teaching to large classes, but I was only ever an observer.  It was also social care – such as raising enough money to pay for HIV tests for all the kids – and taking them to the Pizzeria afterwards – or one trip we made to Tunza beach.  My fondest memories of the actual teaching were doing a quiz called ‘runaround’ and a treasure hunt followed by a Pinyata party put together by Mexican volunteer, Georgina.   I also learned the ways of the massai – one guarded our compound – and how to jump like them.


With Tom and the Massai

I documented everything with a written diary. An extract shown is below.  It details how I tried to recover from getting Malaria and staying in the Hindu hospital in Mwanza. I have never been as bored in my life waiting for the doctor to pay me a visit that I checked myself out and into a nearby hotel. I got malaria despite taking regular supplies of  Doxycycline. Protecting myself with anti-malaria spray and sleeping under a mosquito net had proved in vain.  At one point I was on 6 different types of medication and lost a stone in weight.  The children at Hisani were far worse off than me and more resilient for it.  They frequently got malaria. As common as getting a cold for them.  One boy, Marwa, had polio and needed constant attention and daily help with his exercises.


Diary Entry – Tue 5 Dec 2006


Thomas Cook!

Tom Rogers is a weekly columnist for TES online and founder of rogershistory.com. He can be seen in the photo above cooking Ugali with me at the orphanage.  He also kept a written diary and wrote about his own experience in his own reflective blogpost – focusing on the children – in 2015.  Here’s an extract:

“My most painful experience of leaving anywhere was my departure from a group of children I will never forget; a long walk sobbing along a dirt track in the dark knowing I would never see many of them again.

In October 2006, I embarked on what would be one of the best experiences of my life, working for the charity Volunteer Africa teaching orphans in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Following a myriad of painful injections (including the 3 stage rabies jabs – ouch), research about different mosquito sprays and purchasing lonely planet (it was my gap year yah), I was ready to go.”

My relationship with Tom grew very strong, even though we were very different characters.  His passions were strong, especially when it came to how the children were being treated disgracefully at Hisani. One unforgettable experience was getting stranded on an island in Lake Victoria. An extract is below and the whole post about that bizarre day is here.

“On Saturday, I went on the most bizarre boat trip, off the coast at Igombe, a village infested with lake flies. We set sail on a rickety fisherman’s boat, out onto Lake Victoria, and headed for an island straight ahead. Everything was lovely, until we realised that the inhabitants of said island were not used to white visitors and wanted to see documentation and ask the purpose of our visit. It all got very heated and a diplomatic row was brewing, fuelled by the locals being out of their faces on either drink or dope – paranoia was high, as were they!”

It was often quite a scary experience.  Riding the Toyota Hi-Ace Daladala’s back and forth between Buswelu and Mwanza required some amount of ‘faith’.  At one point I even declared myself to have a faith, possibly because I felt I needed some protection on the dangerous roads.  It was also a very humbling experience.  The kids at the orphanage were relatively fortunate by comparison to the street kids who slept by day and begged on the streets of Mwanza at night.  The conditions, at times, were difficult to cope with and I admit checking into a couple of hotels at different times to get a decent shower or a good nights sleep.

I still get newsletters from one of the UK-based charities involved, Kids Aid Tanzania.  Other than that, I no longer have any connections with the orphanage and haven’t seen any of the children since.

Although it was the first time anyone in my immediate family had visited Africa, my brother subsequently won a safari trip to Kenya. My mum, whose second husband sadly died while I was in Tanzania, went on to volunteer at the Christian-based Kenyan Children’s Project and, later, made a couple of trips for Aid Africa – a charity based in Holt, Norfolk, to the more southerly country of Malawi, in Blantye, flying into the capital of Lilongwe – which is not far off an anagram of my surname 🙂

Do Your Revision - compound pic taken by Tom Rogers

Do Your Revision – compound pic taken by Tom Rogers


Mental Health and ELT #3


Brain_Tree_Roots_Psychology 2 (Pixabay)

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

Following my request on 1 December for people working in English Language Teaching to complete a survey, I received over 500 responses from around the world.  The response was so overwhelming – but in a good way – that I closed the survey after three weeks, in order to take stock and to begin to analyse the information shared.  It’s going to take a while, so please bear with me.

A full report of my findings will follow in 2018 ahead of a confirmed conference talk in Brighton on 10 April.  In the meantime, I thought I would share some of the public blog posts on this or similar topics.  I have previously linked to the first three from this blog and these ones contain links to other blog posts. Some of the links below were offered in the survey responses.  Several people wanted to share something that they have written but felt that doing so would compromise their anonymity so those have not been shared here. The remaining links were collated by me this year and were not part of the responses.  I’ve made them all user-friendly links, thanks to a suggestion I received.

If you took part in the survey and submitted a link but it is not listed here it might be unavailable or I couldn’t find the exact link to a relevant post on mental health or wellbeing from the information provided. If that is the case you could leave a comment with a direct link at the end.

Lizzie Pinard – Mental Health in ELT

Sandy MillinUseful links on mental health in ELT

Elly Setterfield – A-Z of self-care for Teachers

+ How to Stay Sane

+ What to do when you can’t stop criticising yourself

Katherine Bilsborough – Self-development as a way to tackle low self-esteem

+ Winning the battle against low self-esteem

coperebecca – How many times do you have to start Again, Again, Again

Tyson Seburn – ELT ratio: your path to burnout

Clare Maas (Fielder) – Stress Awareness Discussion – teacher 5 a day

+ Beating burnout and avoiding stress – Top Tips

Roseli Serra – Burnout in ELT

Phil Nash – Five great ways to boost Language Teacher Wellbeing (BESIG)

Lama Obeid  – What do they know about Depression

Danny McNeive – Living with Depression

Kieran O’Driscoll – Bullying, harrassment and Workplace Abuses

Laura Patsko – Mental Health (in ELT)

Conferencing for Introverts

Paul Walsh (TaWSIG) – Interview with Phil Longwell about mental health

Parisa Mehran – I am More than a Stereotype

Teachers are Gold project (Australia)

Fiona Oates / ELTjam – Why mental health matters

Marie Delaney – Managing our own wellbeing (The Learning Harbour)

Denise Cowle – How should i deal with workplace anxiety

The Secret DOS – You don’t have to be mad to work here

Neil Millington – Be Kind to Yourself 

Mind – Supporting workplaces to be mentally healthy

One of the respondents, Helen Waldron, has written a book on Teacher Identity

Not ELT but this, from the Secret Teacher, is relevant – Class, I wish I had told you about my mental health

Again, not ELT but relevant – Kevin McLaughlin – The Depressed Teacher

Again, not ELT but relevant – Daisy Buchanan – How to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health

That’s it for now and that’s it for 2017!  Happy New Year!  Do look after yourself.

Happy New YEar

Virtual Reality in Use

ELTchat Virtual-Reality header

On 22 Nov 2017 the #ELTchat was on the topic of ‘Virtual Reality In Use’.  This is a written summary of the chat, while an enhanced video showing some of the sites mentioned and a chat between the joint summary writers is at the end.

The question to kick start was about the VR headsets available in the market. One of the participants mentioned Google Cardboard Box, the affordable Google VR set for schools. As there were doubts because some participants were not familiar with this VR possibility, this site was suggested for quick research. Google Cardboard is a VR headset that you put your phone into. There are various VR apps which can be used on the phone and seen through the Cardboard headset, noted @carolrainbow. She pointed out that some other apps or sites related to school subjects as geography and biology could be found, but not specifically for ELT as far as she knows.  @fionaljp shared a link to some educational resources from Class Tech tips for using VR, as well as some tips for getting started with 360 photos. 

ELTchat newcomer, @paulinobrener said he hadn’t used VR in the classroom but would love to use VR in his online classes. He would meet students in virtual spaces such as this. Like we used to do in Second Life suggested @angelos_bollas, who added that it was better for online classes but maybe VR is better in face-to-face ones. @carolrainbow still meets people in Second Life.  You can’t get anything more immersive than a virtual world in her opinion.  Marisa_C agreed and felt @carolrainbow was a virtual worlds guru and mentor, with thousands of great SL photos of virtual trips, holodecks and more! @paulinobrener felt Facebook Spaces is arguably more immersive. It’s like SL but not in front of a monitor but with VR goggles in an immersive environment.

Carol Rainbow Tweet

Marisa Tweet

The chat moved on to what was actually the main purpose of the exchange, which was how to integrate the VR possibility to meaningful ELT classroom usage. @Marisa_C contributed with a blog on the theme of VR integration with elt syllabus from the LTSIG blog archive – here, written by @Rach_Ribeiro who was also taking part. @Angelos_bollas mentioned the possibility of ‘virtual trips’, while @fionaljp shared a link with some suggestions and asked about the 360° camera and VR headset. @Paulinobrener contributed with this link on VR integration and later on made his point that VR as entertaining as it is, doesn’t replace the teacher. @fionaljp brought up @Paul_Driver‘s idea of using VR for CELTA observation, as described in this link. She also shared Paul’s excellent presentation for Cambridge University Press – ‘A new perspective: Virtual Reality and Transmedia Spherical Video in Teacher Training.’ Paul later joined the chat. @Rach_Ribeiro shared more ideas from a blog post she wrote for Teaching English British Council.

Fiona Tweet

Another doubt had to do with what kind of video to use and where to find some options. @Marisa_C shared some YouTube samples which were recorded with a 360° camera. @fionaljp said she was interested in 360 filming for observation. @Rach_Ribeiro suggested that a ‘gopro camera ‘ or a mobile enabled to film 360° is necessary to create this – such as this one with elephants. You can use Google Street view to do 360° on a mobile device, offered @carolrainbow. The discussion later came back to the more technical aspect of using VR in relation to the equipment: smart phone, videos recorded in 360° or VR ready apps.  The need of some specialised training, as well as the fact it is just another tool, came up in the interaction between @paulinobrener and @angelos_bollas. The former shared a publication on the uses of mobile learning by @Shaunwilden, who was also present. Shaun mentioned one of his favourite 360° sites – Google Spotlight Stories

@Angelos_bollas asked whether a new teacher would need some specialised training to use VR?  @paulinobrener replied that all teachers have (or should have) a strong foundation for teaching languages. VR is just another tool.  @angelos_bollas was talking more about VR training. @paulinobrener added that like any new tool you want to you, you need to know the teacher very well before implementing.  Or an old teacher, suggested @sueannan or any teacher added @seburnt.  @sergiolm21 said from his point of view no, but I would recommend you to try some Apps, experience it and see for yourself.

Sergio Lorca Tweet

@sergiolm21 stated that students love to use Google Expeditions when they have to do a writing activities describing places.  But what do they do whilst exploring? asked @carolrainbow. After the tour every group describes the place and finally present their tour orally to rest of the class, replied @sergiolm21. It depends on the students’ levels, suggested @Rach_Ribeiro – you can ask students what they see. @Shaunwilden argued that this could be done just as well using video on a phone, the immersive element doesn’t add to the language activity. Marisa_C agreed, adding that immersion tends to generate descriptive language while Second Life interactions can generate more genuine social ones.  @sergiolm21 stated that with AR or VR you can get more info than with a video, students can walk around the class and ‘explore’ what they are watching. Another positive aspect is that AR & VR could increase motivation.  Experienced educational technologist, @Paul_Driver, pointed out that the current limitations in the use of VR in ELT are mostly down to a lack of imagination more than anything technological.  

Paul Driver Tweet

@Shaunwilden says there is a little on 360 videos in his book on mobile learning, which was mentioned in the chat, but he remains unconvinced of VR in language teaching.  @angelos_bollas asked why he was not sold on the idea.  Shaun stated that, at the moment, it is no more than a glorified video player for language classes.

Shaun tweet

@Marisa_C highlighted a key factor, that the teacher needs to scaffold and promote language use while the ‘trip’ is happening, which was strongly supported by many participants. Furthermore, in her wrap up note, @Marisa_C also reminded everyone of the LTSIG Pre conference event on 9 April 2018, which will be on the field of VR and AR researches applied to teaching EFL or ESL where both @Paul_Driver and @Rach_Ribeiro, along with other speakers will be sharing their experience and clarifying doubts the audience may have.


About the summary writers:

Raquel Ribeiro is already a keen advocate and experienced user of virtual reality in the classroom. She will be presenting at the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group PCE at the IATEFL Conference in Brighton.  She recently received a donation of 30 Google Cardboard boxes from Google London and will be bringing some along to the event.

Phil Longwell has just purchased his first VR headset, ahead of the LTSIG PCE. He hasn’t got much experience of virtual reality, but did attend Kevin Spiteri’s session on this at ELT Malta. A clip of that session is here.

Here is an enhanced video showing some of the sites mentioned above and a chat about the topic between the summary writers:


An extended version of the chat between the summary writers, which has a further discussion of the topic and the possible uses of VR in education, is here.


Header image: http://cryptocurry.com/news/innovative-vision-blockchain-virtual-reality/

Mental Health and ELT #2

Brain_Tree_Roots_Psychology_Mental_Health (Pixabay)

The roots of our mental health (photo credit: Pixabay)

I have just been accepted to give a talk at the IATEFL conference in Brighton next year. It will be my first proper conference talk having joined this organisation in 2012 and watched many others do so.  While being excited by the prospect, I also feel somewhat daunted by it – especially given the topic I want to discuss.  Earlier this year, I gave an interview about my own mental health issues in relation to working in the English Teaching profession and how it had affected my career.  I wasn’t sure if a conversation about mental health in ELT had already begun within this industry or to what extent other teachers had already written about it. I subsequently found that quite a few already have and more teaching professionals have added their voice this year. I have been collating blog posts but now comes the next stage.

I would be very grateful if people who work within English Language Teaching, whatever their role, could complete my survey.  This research will form part of my talk and I will also publish the results in April 2018, around the time of the talk.  I am not looking for statistics – just qualitative responses!  I give all assurances to confidentiality, anonymity and data protection in the survey.  Most of the questions are optional, including all that relate to personal information.  Furthermore, I will follow the British Association for Applied Linguistics’ recommendations on good practice at all stages before following-up and before any publication of the results.

Please see the preview below or click here to access the survey.   Then once you have completed it please share with colleagues, employers and other interested parties. Hopefully, it will generate some great responses on this important topic.

Below is the short link to the survey if you wish to copy and paste into your blog or social media:


Update: I will stop receiving new responses and close the survey on 21 December.

Thank you for visiting.



The Ideal Staffroom

Staffroom (The Big Idea Group)

This is a summary of an #ELTchat which took place on 8 November 2017 on Twitter. It is my 12th such summary – the rest can be found via a link at the top of this page.

@angelos_bollas set up the topic and moderated the hour long discussion, assisted by @Hada_ELT, who took over towards the end.   Although the topic was ‘the ideal staffroom’ many chatters reflected and shared the kinds of staffrooms they currently use or have recently experienced.    Some suggestions were made as to what makes a conducive environment to work in but given that there is often little choice for teachers the chat tended towards discussing things that they have to tolerate and how they create their own personal working space.  It was also the first #ELTchat to take place after the introduction of the new 280 character ‘limit’.

@angelos_bollas pointed out that not every school, or workplace for that matter, has a staffroom.  @MoreMsJackson suggested resources was a good place to start and @angelos_bollas asked what kind of resources are needed. Books were suggested.  For @teacherphili, the books required depends on whether you are teaching a fairly prescribed syllabus or you have to find your own materials. For @11thhourspecial (Marc Jones) an ELT library with some Applied Linguistics books was ideal. Rotate stock, too – otherwise people will just read the same stuff over and over, he added. @fionaljp said that ideally there would be a regular supply of freebie new course books from publishers. @angelos_bollas liked the idea of having photocopiable materials in the staffroom.

Fiona - booksAngelos - books

The whole library is in @Hada_ELT’s current staffroom –  teachers’ shelves as well as resources like a guillotine, paper.  @GlenysHanson had hanging files of worksheets, exercises, etc. Things lots of her colleagues used. These were either copied out of books or made by ourselves and were very useful when rushing into class. @Hada_ELT used to have these also but they were removed because of reasons of space.  @MoreMsJackson thought it depends how many different courses your centre or school has. The only places she has worked with physical files was a manageable centre with only young learners, maybe 15 different levels total and a summer school for teens so only 9 or 10 levels.

Glenys Marisa

@GlenysHanson wondered if we were talking about the interior decoration or people.   Garish colour schemes or anything that could give you a headache were off limits according to @teacherphili.   @fionaljp stated she would like the walls painted with IdeaPaint.  It’s a special paint that makes walls just like whiteboards so you can write all over them and erase!

Fiona Price  Angelos Fiona

Good wifi and reliable IT support was suggested by @fionaljp, and others agreed, although @eltplanning said there was no wifi in his staffroom.  Access to coffee, biscuits and bottles of water also seemed important for many.   @GlenysHanson, for example, stated that they have access to a real coffee machine as well as a microwave. She added that talking to colleagues was the most useful resource she found in the teachers’ room!  @MoreMsJackson agreed, saying that discussing problems with other teachers is an important part of an ideal staffroom, something which chatters returned to later.

HadaAngelos Hada

@Hada_ELT ideally wants a place to unwind, but her current staffroom is packed with desks and shelves and there is no room to stretch your legs.   She also asked how chatters felt about loud conversations between colleagues – who sometimes just need to unwind – while you’re trying to meet a deadline?  @Marisa_C stated that they have a library which is our quiet space when things get too noisy – thinking of a nice comfy couch for that room actually!!  Headphones are an essential staffroom item for @MoreMsJackson and @ITLegge, who works in a ‘crazy noisy open-plan’ office@seburnt added he just puts in earphones or goes somewhere quiet.  @GlenysHanson stated that when she needed a quiet place, she went to the ‘mediacentre’.  This feature is found in universities rather than language schools.  It was generally agreed that in universities there more options and quieter places to work.


Jackson HadaKate

One aspect of @teacherphili‘s summer university job was the amount of space… if the staffroom got too noisy he could go off to a quieter room or the library and still access all the material by signing in to whatever PC was there. But he admitted being guilty of having loud conversations, as has @eltplanning@KateLloyd05 thought she might have to steal the ‘inner voice’ request, which was mentioned, for her situation:

Phil Peter Pun

A solid, reliable photocopier was raised by many.  @fionaljp needs one that never breaks down.  @MoreMsJackson stated that she had worked in quite a few places with (access to) more than one photocopier.  It’s handy to be able to run to another when one is jammed/broken and you’re in a rush. @KateLloyd05  said that having two in their staffroom was excellent, they even have names.  @teacherphili lamented last minute photocopying and the lack of toner, toner, toner – or reducing TTT as @Hada_ELT joked. @naomishema asked if we photocopied tests on our own. @KateLloyd05‘s tests are sent to the university printing service and prepared for teachers.

Naomi Phil Hada Phil

@naomishema also asked if chatters can freely discuss problems with students or classes in the staffroom and get support.  Discussing problems with other teachers is an important part of an ideal staffroom replied @MoreMsJackson.   Absolutely vital necessity added @fionaljp.  However @naomishema recently experienced poor support:

Naomi FionaKate Marisa

Ideally a space away from students was key for many including @Hada_ELT@teacherphili asked if a staffroom should be a place where only the teachers can go, a space that is out of bounds to students?  Ideally, answered @angelos_bollas, although in some situations the students are allowed in.   @Hada_ELT agreed with having the privacy and being able to remove oneself from the teaching area.  . When @teacherphili started out in Korea little kids would be running around his desk … no separation between class and staffroom.  @Hada_ELT said that when she was a school teacher, she used to let the kids into the staffroom, but they knew to be on their best behaviour – which was OK.

@teacherphili‘s summer pre-sessional staffroom was an important place where he could plan, mark and generally not have students around… It had a huge number of PCs (2 per teacher if needed).  It was, however, ‘room 101’.  He didn’t like the staffroom assigned to full-time employees as it involved ‘hot-desking.’  Another pre-sessional tutor @ShannonThwaites didn’t have a staff room in the summer. They took over a computer room but other staff and students still used it.

Towards the end, @Hada_ELT asked participants to describe their ideal staffroom in less than 10 words, which continued into the ‘slowburn’..

Hada - 10 words tweetElisabeth JacksonAlphabet PublishingNaomi

Fionaljp2KamilaLinkovaHelen LeggeMalachy Scullion  Hada Glenys  Marc Jones

Peter Pun 2

This was a friendly, lively chat with not many disagreements or controversies.   While many teachers have their own particular requirements of a staffroom, many seemed to make the most of what they had, even if some wished for more nespresso, space, working photocopiers and general peace away from the students.  Chatters spoke of what they had rather than what would ideally like although Hada’s final question – to summarise in less than 10 words – was a useful way to end.

Furthermore, in respect of ‘words limits’ – this was also the very first ELTchat which was able to take advantage of the new 280 character ‘limit’ on Twitter.  The general snapshot verdict was that this helped rather hindered the chat.   I had posted a poll (see below) on this issue on Twitter and also raised it on the #ELTchat Facebook group the previous month. Opinion was broadly split.  Some felt it would take too long to read participants’ comments.  In practice, however, chatters seemed to have more freedom to express themselves without having to use acronyms, abbreviations or editing a overlong draft.  It didn’t seem to slow things down. Having the option for longer tweets doesn’t mean that everyone will do so, of course, but the choice is there.  It certainly made writing the summary easier as I was able to understand what people wrote rather than trying to work out meaning from an abbreviated or short-hand tweet.  I like the change!

Phil - 280

My EAP Summer in Norwich

2017-06-20 17.13.55

A ziggurat at the UEA

I have just completed the 12-week presessional EAP course at INTO University of East Anglia, Norwich.  It has been one of the best teaching roles I have ever had.  After an lengthy but necessary induction, followed by a couple of weeks where I was generally excited just to be there and living on campus, I settled down to teaching a fairly prescriptive syllabus.  I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My only previous presessional experience came at De Montfort University in 2013, which came to abrupt end due to my suffering from an acute illness.  The University of Sheffield hired me the following year for their summer presessional but I got ‘cold feet’ and pulled out with one week before the induction, citing personal reasons.

Roll on to 2017 and I have completed the 12 weeks, with no obvious signs of panic or anxiety.  I also have nothing but good things to say about my experience this summer. The organisation and structure of the course at INTO, University of East Anglia, has been superb.  I was already familiar with the university but not with INTO as an organisation. I’m impressed.  I was fortunate to be offered two Humanities and Science classes, rather than Business or Law students. I was also given the later (11am-5pm) shift rather than the earlier (9am-3pm) one.  I lived on campus with several other teachers, although spent the first four nights in the INTO building, before the arrival of the majority of the 433 students on the 12 week course.  We pretty much bonded from the first week, actually week 13. I have met and made friends with a fantastic bunch of teachers, some who are employed full-time at INTO, others who teach just on the summer programmes – there are also 8, 6 and 4 week courses.

I taught Humanities I & J (shown below), which mostly consisting of students from mainland China.  There were four Turkish students, one from Japan and one from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The only photos I am sharing here are the end of course class photos and the envelopes of 18 personalised cards which I received on the final day.  Also shown is my teaching partner, Joe, who taught for the last seven weeks or so of the course, although I had a number of partners over the 12 weeks.   I taught Academic Writing and Research Skills with my tutorial group, while I taught Integrated (Reading, Listening, Speaking) skills to Humanities J, which extended to preparations for group and individual presentations.  I was involved in conducting both formative and summative assessments.  The former was carried out with my two groups, while the end of course exams meant watching presentations of both the Law class and a different Humanities group.  I also helped to invigilate the summative assessments of three Business classes, which led to being hired as an IELTS invigilator.  All 36 of my students passed the course and will progress to their full MAs, many in Education, Media or Film. There was one exception, an undergraduate who changed to a BSc Economics programme, which has a slightly lower entry point, so passed regardless.

UEA INTO cards

Thank You Cards from Humanities I

UEA INTO (209)

Humanities I

UEA INTO (211)

Humanities J

Living on campus meant that I had convenient access to the staffroom, classrooms and the UEA library.  The INTO building was equally near.  I was able to attend gigs (such as the Flaming Lips on 26 June) and UB40 (27 Aug), Come Yew In and the Lord Mayor’s Procession (both on 8 July) and go back home at weekends when necessary, such as attending Wells Carnival (5 Aug).

I used the Learning and Teaching Hub in the Arts1 building to conduct tutorials.  I used WeChat to disseminate information and provide feedback, Kahoot! to carry out a class quiz review, Camtasia + a camcorder to record group presentations and organised a treasure trail in Norwich Lanes in the final week, which would make for a great future ice-breaker.  I also attended a Humanities J Barbecue on the eve of the final assignment deadline and the end of presessional meal on our final day.

I was glad to meet up over the summer with Jeremy Harmer, Gavin Dudeney, Russell Stannard and Jamie Keddie, all NILE associate trainers, who stayed on campus.

There are so many people to thank for the experience this summer and they know who they are, but special shouts go to fellow newbies, Marie and Luqman, and returner, Meriol.  We shared a lot about ourselves and helped each other through the course, often on the ‘Bunnyside’ of our summer residence, Colman House. We also had a lot of laughs and good times with the other teachers on the 12 week course, including many dances with Jeanne. Near the end, several of us watched the final performance of Swallows and Amazons at the Maddermarket Theatre, featuring our colleague, Andy.

I have every intention, all being well, of teaching on this programme again next year. Meanwhile, next stop – a couple of days at NILE, four days in Malta, volunteering once more for New Routes and probably back to private tutoring.


addendum (posted 8 Jan 2018)

UEA INTO (224)

Classroom spaces – inside and out

This is a summary of the #ELTchat which took place on Wed 28 June 2017.  It is a chat which I took part in, at the end of my first teaching day with a new bunch of students in Norwich and this is my 11th summary overall, although it is partly written with the chat DJ, Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  It was basically written a few days after but is only now being published.

Matthew had set up the chat with the premise of discussing the physical space where teachers had taught in the past – be it inside or outside the normal confines of a classroom ‘box’. In addition he began the chat began with the following prompts:


It started slowly, but gradually chatters began to appear from out of their respective classroom woodwork and wallflower lurking.

@SueAnnan said “it looks like we are discussing classroom features which make it a good place to work … what makes an effective work space for you?”

@tesolmatthew wanted to hear about the positive and negative aspects of different teaching spaces.  @Kamilaofprague immediately suggested this was “a pretty standard idea but that the topic could be extended by [discussing] what we trade our lessons for: other lessons, goods, services and nothing”

@teacherphili wondered if by ‘classroom’ we meant 4 walls, desks, chairs and so on.  @sueannan thought 4 walls were important to be considered as one. @digteap felt if 4 walls is the defining feature then she had only ever taught in a classroom.

The idea of alternative class spaces, different and alternative payment practices was an idea that cropped up.  @digteap asked “so where have you all taught that’s not a classroom?”  This generated a large response from chatters with contributions, with some sharing photographic evidence, throughout the remainder of the chat and into the slowburn.

@sueannan said she likes spaces which are flexible. She taught in a room in Malta where the table was the size of the room, which was impossible to monitor. @digteap replied that she had experienced that – I guess we have 2 modify the way we teach depending on the environment. Nice to be able to move though.  Sue’s rooms have small tables which fit together and can be separated.  @Glenyshanson replied that is just perfect for her style. Too much furniture or desks that can’t be moved are awful. Students and teachers all need to be able to move.  @digteap stated that she actually quite like those old fashioned chairs that have little tables attached.  But @sueannan said she hates them –  students can’t spread out to work.  They can so easily be rearranged in groups, however, especially modern ones with wheels (see below) offered @digteap:

maria digteap tweet (2)

@Glenyshanson said that she had several portable whiteboards, which were very light and about the same size as my SW charts. Also carried pictures to get teens talking. That’s the benefit of using iPads, added @sueannan. They are brilliant for illustrating things. @MConca16 said she had taught outdoors in a London park on summer camps. @fionaljp stated that her first job was at a summer camp on a Turkish beach teaching children for 6 weeks. She has also taught taught doctors in a Spanish hospital at 8am in the morning.  @teacherphili stated that his first (voluntary) job was teaching under a mango tree in an orphanage, in Tanzania,  with hardly any resources – that was outside! He provided this accompanying image, too:

teacherphili tweet and tesolmatthew reply

@teacherphili: In Tanzania we had no board rubbers so we used our hands & cleaned them on the kids’ hair to get rid of the chalk.  @tesolmatthew wondered if anyone could top that for low-resource environment, before sharing his own photos. He taught in a battered classroom in Sri Lanka – very very low resource. Chalk, one bench, even cattle roaming through because it was in a big open shed. He wrote: “That was my very first classroom. So it was only up from there!” and “ It allowed me to REALLY appreciate the basics of a modern space”. @EdLaur responded by saying ”Wow! I will never complain about not having a IWB again”.  Later, after the tsunami in Sri Lanka, @tesolmatthew did private lessons on board a beached dredger ship – another atypical classroom for sure! – his pics are shared below:


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@sueannan says she has done the odd 1-2-1 class in a hotel space.   She had a recent request to teach from a student who wanted lessons in her own dining room.  She has taught, however, in other people’s kitchens.  Similarly, @teacherphili had recently been doing just that.  Both used iPads as their alternative whiteboard. Additionally, both Sue and Phil were given great coffee by their students during class.  

Tyson Tweet
At first, @seburnt thought a coffee shop was the only non-classroom place he had taught, but then revealed that he did turn his bedroom into a quasi 1-2-1 classroom for a while. A ‘bit inapproprié’ thought @digteap, while @teacherphili replied that he “would draw a big fat line at teaching IN my bedroom. Maybe online FROM my bedroom, at a push.” @seburnt said he didn’t have another appropriate space to do it.

@teacherphili said he was currently teaching at a university where everything – the walls, concrete buildings & even the inside of the lifts are grey, which sounded depressing, according to @Sueannan, adding that she had one room with a purple wall.  @glenyshanson stated that she taught in a French uni with walls dripping with filth. Ss only complained when course went badly.  @Sueannan replied that she finds students often don’t notice. Hers only complain if something goes wrong with the toilets.   Another room had several pillars, added @glenyshanson.  She had to peer round them to see the students.  Mostly it was just ordinary classrooms. Square rooms are better than long, narrow ones for being able to see students and vice versa.  

@teacherphili mentioned that he’d been “teaching in other people’s dining rooms recently.  Kind of a classroom. I bring a portable whiteboard & markers + ipad” and @SueAnnan said “It’s great to put tables away when your class is small. Makes the room feel friendlier”. @glenyshanson said that she “had several portable whiteboards. Very light & about the same size as my SW charts. Also carried pictures to get teens talking”.

As usual, the 60-minute live #ELTchat was followed by 24 hours worth of ‘slowburn’. It wasn’t a particularly busy slowburn. Here are a few highlights:

@compellingtalks asked: “Can we also lobby for more schools to adopt best practices & modern furniture? Card tables & chairs w/wheels make students easier!”

@tesolmatthew shared another picture, writing: Aha! I found my pic of the ULTIMATE out-of-classroom scene. Raymond Murphy grammar study in a waterfall:


Rob Sheppard, who tweets at @robshpprd, said “For years I’ve dreamt of a classroom with yoga balls and modular tables on wheels”. To which @tesolmatthew responded: “Didn’t they do that in the 1970s with Bach on?”

robshpprd tweet and tesolmatthew reply

Soon afterwards, @tesolmatthew remembered another non-classroom teaching experience: “More non-classroom experience: worked mostly in the editing room but occasionally on set of a TV show”. And again he shared a picture:

tesolmatthew tweet
In the slowburn,  @lexicojules posted this:

lexicojules tweet

while @teacherphili added this: 
Teacherphili classroom spaces tweet

..and the conversation continued in response, blending into the ongoing dialogues taking place that week on twitter and elsewhere.  

If you have your own interesting classroom experiences then why not share them in the comments box.

Participants:  @tesolmatthew (moderator); @SueAnnan (moderator); @Kamilaofprague; @getgreatenglish; @Ven_VVE; @GemmaELT; @ITLegge; @ThisIsMattStott; @Fionaljp; @Teacherphili; @digteap; @seburnt; @MConca16; @RogersHistory; @harrisonmike; @GlenysHanson; @compellingtalks; @robshpprd; @FizzicsEd; @ElleninEdmonton; @CorineMerrill32; @LeoWill11; @TeresaBestwick; @lexicojules; @ELTdanbuller, @Marisa_C and myself, @teacherphili.